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Film and TV

On set with 007 and photographer Terry O’Neill

Words by Rob Chilton

Trusted friendships with the likes of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan meant that O’Neill was able to document James Bond like nobody else over 50 years. A new book charts his time with 007.  

James Bond and Terry O’Neill fit together like a Walther PPK nestled in a shoulder holster underneath a tailored tuxedo. The legendary photographer, who died in November, had a decades-old relationship with 007 that started when he was invited to shoot Sean Connery on the 1964 movie Goldfinger. Numerous set visits followed, during which the famously charming O’Neill built up a rapport with Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig to gain remarkable access and capture the actors during relaxed moments.

In a new book containing more than 150 photographs, Bond: Photographed by Terry O’Neill, The Definitive Collection, film writer James Clarke documents O’Neill’s work with the Bond franchise and adds fresh input from Jane Seymour (Solitaire in Live and Let Die), George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Robert Wade and Neal Purvis (writers of seven Bond films including Skyfall, Spectre and No Time To Die) and notes from O’Neill himself.

Clarke spoke to EDGAR about the enduring appeal of cinema’s most famous spy and why O’Neill’s work is so special.

 

Roger Moore and Yaphet Kotto fighting under water on the film set Live and Let Die.

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Roger Moore and Yaphet Kotto fighting on Live and Let Die in 1973

What are some of your first memories of watching James Bond movies?

My earliest memory is seeing For Your Eyes Only at the cinema when I was growing up in London. I remember then seeing Octopussy and A View to a Kill on the big screen. I won’t be alone in saying that the songs that accompanied the movies always made a big impact and Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill track was everywhere on the radio in that summer of 1985 when the film was released.

Do you think it’s the greatest movie franchise ever?

It’s one of them, unquestionably, and it set the template for so much that has become the established mode for the big event movies that so many of us enjoy, whether it’s Bond or a comic book adaptation. The character of James Bond has such an enduring place in the imaginations of movie audiences. The character’s fluid enough, too, to allow for new iterations that can remain contemporary and feel relevant. I’d be very glad to see 007 portrayed by a woman but I am not sure that will come to pass quite yet.

Honor Blackman and Sean Connery on the set of Goldfinger in 1964.

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Honor Blackman and Sean Connery on the set of Goldfinger in 1964

What is the appeal of Bond movies to you?

Their narrative momentum and their combination of outrageous situations that are rendered in believable ways. There’s also something else, and it especially ties in with Connery and Craig’s renditions of the character: there’s something particularly believable and resonant in them. They feel accessible to us as the audience even though the situations they find themselves in are so much larger than life. That combination is a special mix.

Did you ever meet Terry O’Neill?

I did, but it was very brief and he was very unwell in the final year or two of his life. What I would say is that the book has certainly taken on a new lustre in light of his passing and, for me at least, it is now all the more a celebration of his legacy and importance to how the image of Bond has found such a place, not just in film culture but the wider popular culture. That’s quite a special achievement.

Sean Connery plays around on Diamonds are Forever in Las Vegas in 1971.

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Sean Connery plays around on Diamonds are Forever in Las Vegas in 1971

Many people paid touching tributes to O’Neill when he died; why do you think he was so loved?

There are two answers to that: one is that his manner and way of engaging his subjects was so inviting and easygoing and understated. Second, the images themselves are so often charged with a sense of immediacy and humour and playfulness.

Why are his photographs so effective?

They so clearly communicate an idea. His photos on a number of the Bond movies capture not only the intensity of the character but also, in more candid opportunities, a real sense of enjoyment in bringing the character to the screen. The images of Sean Connery between takes really capture that playfulness and also an ease on set.

 

Bond: Photographed by Terry O’Neill, The Definitive Collection is published by ACC Art Books.

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